Greensboro brewer has big dreams

by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle, May 19, 2010
GREENSBORO — Shaun Hill says he feels a sense of responsibility, both to the ancestors who first farmed his family’s plot of land in the 1780s, and to the god of beer.  He hopes to live up to both his family and his muse by producing fine beers.  In the process, he also hopes to make a living for himself and to make beer lovers happy.
“If I can honor the muse, certainly the general public will approve,” Mr. Hill said.
Although he is only in his early thirties, Mr. Hill has already backed his ambition up with accolades worthy of a much older person.
At this year’s biennial World Beer Cup in Chicago, judges tasted 3,330 beers from 642 breweries made in 90 styles.  They recognized Mr. Hill with two gold awards and one silver.
He received one gold award for a barley wine style ale and one for an American style imperial stout.  An American style sour ale that Mr. Hill crafted won a silver award in its class.
Mr. Hill created all three beers during the two years he spent working as brew master at a microbrewery in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In his small garage, a collection of kettles, fermenters, and casks makes up the production facilities of Hill Farmstead Brewery.  Near the front of the single room, a small area is set aside as the retail space, where on weekday and Saturday afternoons, Mr. Hill sells growlers of his beer, T-shirts, and beer glasses with the brewery’s logo.
That logo, like the farm, has some serious history behind it.  Mr. Hill said he took the wine glass that forms part of the design from a tavern sign that Lewis Hill had in his house.  The sign and tavern belonged to Aaron Hill, the brewer’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 1840s.
In recent conversations, Mr. Hill said that his brewery is the realization of a decade-old dream.  He said his first experience making beer was while he was a student at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.  He said he did a demonstration of brewing for a science project.
While in college, he studied philosophy and pursued his interest in the brewer’s art.  The self-trained beermaker found work after graduation as brew master for the Shed in Stowe.  After two years there, he spent a year overseeing the brewing at Trout River in Lyndonville.
Those experiences provided him with the connections to find work at Nørrebro Bryghus, a microbrewery and restaurant where he created his prize-winning brews.
The awards raised the expectations of serious beer lovers, Mr. Hill said.  But he’s probably the most unforgiving consumer of his own product.  He said that in his early days as a homebrewer the idea that he had produced beer was a thrill to him and the friends he shared it with.  Nowadays he can’t allow himself to listen to people who praise a product that fails to live up to his standards.
To add to his self-generated pressure, Mr. Hill has chosen to name his brews after his forebears.  His India Pale Ale (IPA) is named Edward in honor of his grandfather, who farmed the land where the brewery stands, as did his father, Abner, for whom an Imperial IPA is named.
That ale has an 8.2 percent alcohol content and measures 170 International Bitterness Units (IBU), an indication of the quantity of hops used in brewing.  While one might suppose this would indicate an undrinkably bitter beer, the reality is very different.
That’s because Mr. Hill aims to produce beers with a harmonious balance of flavors, in which none overpower the others.
“I want to produce beers that are more like wines, only without the tannins,” he said.  Despite the high alcohol content of his Abner ale, Mr. Hill said he prefers to craft beers that are less alcoholic.
“I personally don’t like to get drunk,” he said.  He said he prefers beer to act as a “social lubricant,” stimulating evenings of conversation between friends.
Right now, Hill Farmstead Brewery can produce up to 400 gallons of beer a week, he said.  Although that may seem like a sizeable amount of beer, it’s not enough to satisfy the demand, Mr. Hill said.  So far, every drop he can produce is spoken for, he said.
 He said that people who want to try his beer can occasionally find it at Parker Pie in West Glover, Claire’s Restaurant in Hardwick, the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier or American Flatbread
in Burlington.  Otherwise, people will have to make a pilgrimage to the source out on the Hill Road in Greensboro.
The curious will have an extra incentive to visit the brewery on Saturday, May 29, for Mr. Hill’s grand opening celebration.  Although he isn’t giving away free beer, he will have his creations on tap, as well as food catered by Parker Pie.
In addition, drummer P.J. Davidian and keyboard player Parker Shper will be on hand with two of their friends to provide music for the occasion.
Now that his brewery is up and running with help from his family, Mr. Hill said he hopes to move into the black soon.  “I think I can start paying myself a salary by September,” he said.
He said his future plans do not call for his brewery to conquer the world.  He hopes one day to expand his capacity to four times its present size in a new brewery he’d like to build on the site where his family’s barn once stood.
Mr. Hill said he plans to adhere to a business model that he considers truly sustainable.  He has another ambition, too.
“My goal is to make the best beer in the world,” he said.
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Sweet Rowen Farmstead is back in business

by Bethany M. Dunbar

Paul Lisai has restarted his creamery business, Sweet Rowen Farmstead. This pasteurizer can do 50 gallons of milk at once. He will soon be putting in a second one that can process 200 gallons at once. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

EAST ALBANY — Sweet Rowen Farmstead — dairy farm and creamery — is back in business.
Paul Lisai has built a small pasteurizing plant at his home and is bottling milk and making cream-style cheese. He hosted a grand opening on Mother’s Day, Sunday, and he is delivering milk and cheese to area outlets this week.

Mr. Lisai started bottling and selling milk from his Randall lineback cows under the Sweet Rowen label last summer. A mere three months after he started building up his new business the creamery where he was pasteurizing milk — also the creamery used by Ploughgate Cheese — suffered a devastating fire.

“People were just kind of catching on a little bit,” he said. He hopes they liked the first taste because soon he will have the capability to produce much more local fresh pasteurized milk.

Pasteurization kills bacteria that can be harmful. Mr. Lisai uses a system of gentle pasteurization, raising the milk to a temperature of 145 degrees for half an hour. At this time he can do 50 gallons in one batch, but before much longer he will be able to do 200 gallons.
Mr. Lisai is working for Bob-White Systems, based in South Royalton, which sells pasteurization equipment for small farms.

The company is developing a pasteurizer called Lili, which stands for Low Impact, Low Input. The pasteurizer raises milk to a temperature of 161 degrees for just 15 seconds. It is not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile Mr. Lisai is selling the approved equipment and acting as a consultant for other small dairies on behalf of Bob-White.
After the fire last year, Mr. Lisai had to do some soul searching to decide if he really wanted to go back into setting up a creamery. He was immediately approached by the Vermont Farm Fund. The fund was established by Pete Johnson of Craftsbury and the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick after Mr. Johnson’s barn burned. After that fire, there was so much outpouring of support to rebuild Pete’s Greens that Mr. Johnson and the center decided they wanted to establish a fund that would help other farmers who had been struck by a fire or natural disaster.

That encouragement helped Mr. Lisai decide, and the next decision was where he would build it. Some options included at the Pete’s Greens barn or at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, but in the long run Mr. Lisai decided he wanted the creamery at his family’s property, where he plans to farm eventually. At this point he is leasing a farm, owned by John and Lindsey Davis, just a ways down the road from his home.

Mr. Lisai said building a new creamery was quite an undertaking. He mentioned that the people at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture have been extremely helpful. Half of the cost of the project was setting up a waste water system. He did the carpentry himself.

The United States Department of Agriculture gave Sweet Rowen a grant for producers who are adding value to their products. It’s a matching grant of $47,869, which means Mr. Lisai must spend an equal amount of his own money on the project.

So far he has hired one part-time employee. An intern is starting next week. He plans to hire one more full-time employee by the middle of June.

At this point he is processing about 180 gallons a week and milking just five cows. He is a member of Agri-Mark and shipped milk to the co-op all winter, but with only five cows milking right now he is not shipping milk to the co-op currently. He expects to be shipping again by June.

He hired Marisa Mauro as a consultant to help him make cheese. Ms. Mauro is the owner of Ploughgate Cheese. The two had been sharing equipment and creamery space before the fire.
Mr. Lisai grew up in southern Vermont. His father managed an apple orchard. He studied agriculture and forestry at Sterling College and worked on several area dairy farms, including the Jones farm where he first found out about Randall linebacks. The family gave him one to start his own herd. Randall linebacks were originally bred for three uses — draft, dairy, and beef. They were among the first cows brought to the Americas, Mr. Lisai said.
Mr. Lisai named the farm Sweet Rowen after the second cut of hay each season. It’s a traditional New England term. Mr. Lisai decided the name would give a nod to the area’s strong roots in dairying while highlighting the idea of new growth.

Future plans include starting a dairy community supported agriculture (CSA) group. CSA customers sign up to buy a planned amount of food directly from farmers.

Sweet Rowen milk is available at Four Acre Farm in Barton, Buffalo Mountain Co-op in Hardwick, Currier’s Market in Glover, Newport Natural Foods in Newport, Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, and at the creamery in East Albany. Mr. Lisai said he expects the cheese will also be available at these outlets by this coming weekend. Other outlets may be added later.

For more information, see Sweet Rowen’s web site:  www.sweetrowen.com.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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